TORONTO — Canada is the second-largest land mass, the first nation of hockey, and the best part of North America. My name is Joe, and I am Canadian."
That's the impassioned climax of the hottest thing in Canada now: a 60-second beer commercial that has captured the hearts, souls, and minds of Canadians - French and English-speaking alike.
For the usually mild-mannered Canadians, Joe may be getting them in touch with their inner patriots, as he pokes fun at the typical misconceptions about his country by Americans.
"I'm not a lumberjack or a fur trader," he says. "I don't live in an igloo, eat blubber or own a dogsled."
The ad has received standing ovations in bars and cinemas. It was performed at a Stanley Cup game last month in Toronto. And audiences are so familiar with it, that they recite it along with "Joe." Joe, a 20-something average guy in a plaid shirt, standing alone on a stage before a vast unseen audience, begins rather softly, in a polite earnest tone. "I speak English and French, not American." His voice rises as he touches on politics: "I believe in peacekeeping, not policing; diversity, not assimilation."
All this is delivered in a tone that is a mix of self-assertiveness and self-mocking that only the chronically understated can pull off.
"The Rant," as it is now dubbed, has been endlessly spoofed and parodied. Canadian Heritage Minister Sheila Copps played it at a conference of the International Press Institute in Boston earlier this week to demonstrate how Canadians feel about living in the long shadow of the United States.
Rudyard Griffiths, director of the Dominion Institute in Toronto, sees The Rant as an example of "tearing a page out of the book of American cultural imperialism." The Rant represents "a change in the habits of cultural expression in Canada," which he adds - "might not be a bad thing."
"Rah-rah jingoism," is an American habit, Canadians are quick to say. Americans are more willing to engage in mythmaking and celebrating their heroes, Mr. Griffiths says - whereas Canadians can be so disconnected from their own history that they don't appreciate what they've got. In January, for instance, instead of commemorating the birthday of their first prime minister, Sir John A. Macdonald, Canadian schoolchildren observe Martin Luther King Day.
Others are not so sure that The Rant is a good thing. Historian Michael Bliss calls The Rant "pathetic, depressing, and an embarrassment - nationalism without content." He sees the beer commercial as a further sign of "the Americanization of Canada," and a sign of "deep anxiety that is going on because of the brain drain" of this country's brightest to the US and "concern that we are a kind of northern suburb."
Professor Bliss says that he was brought up to feel equally at home in Britain and the United States: "There were always two sides to my cultural markers." But in the intervening years, Britain has fallen off the screen of most Canadians, he suggests, leaving them to endure the "enormous force of American pop culture" without any counterforce.
"The mobilization of the sense of Canadianism to peddle beer... [is] a frontal attack on the values that Canadians share," says Desmond Morton of McGill University in Montreal.
Says Griffiths, "It's very retro, and it's interesting that it's connected with a younger group." Canadian sovereignty has been more of an issue for those who came of age during the late 1960s and early 1970s, he says. That was a time when Canada had a new flag, a hip and glamourous prime minister in Pierre Trudeau, and a world fair. As tensions over the Vietnam War tore at the social fabric of the United States, Canada emerged as a humane alternative society. "There was a conscious rebranding of Canada as an independent nation ready to take its place on the world stage," says Griffiths.
And the commercial that touched Canada's national nerve has transformed Jeff Douglas - a once-unknown actor who plays "Joe" - into one of Canada's most recognizable faces. Now, there's even a Web site, www.iam.ca, where people can submit their patriotic "rants."
"I'm not a lumberjack or a fur trader. I don't live in an igloo, eat blubber or own a dogsled.
"I don't know Jimmy, Suzie or Sally from Canada, although I'm certain they're very nice.
"I have a prime minister, not a president.
"I speak English and French, not American.
"And I pronounce it 'about,' not 'a-boot.'
"I can proudly sew my country's flag on my backpack.
"I believe in peacekeeping, not policing; diversity, not assimilation.
"And that the beaver is a proud and noble animal.
"A tuque is a hat, a chesterfield is a couch.
"And it's pronounced zed. OK? Not zee. Zed.
"Canada is the second-largest land mass, the first nation of hockey and the best part of North America.
"My name is Joe, and I am Canadian."
- Molson Canadian commercial
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society